Revolutionary Seaweed and Carbonated Water-Based Hydrogel for Treating Skin Wounds


Tokyo University of Science
Hydrogels have demonstrated promise for effectively treating skin wounds. However, currently available hydrogels adhere to the skin and swell when absorbing fluid discharge, causing the wound site to expand during the initial stages of recovery. Now, researchers have developed a novel type of hydrogel using a biocompatible substance found in seaweed. This hydrogel results in lower adhesion and swelling, but provides a high therapeutic effect, promising recovery without wound expansion.

Serving as the primary interface between the internal and external environments, the skin stands as the largest and most vital organ in the human body. It is consistently exposed to various types of physical injuries or wounds, such as cuts, scrapes, scratches, infections, and ulcers. Regrettably, as individuals age, the skin becomes more delicate and less proficient at healing without assistance. Given the rapid increase in the aging population in many countries, there is a growing demand for accessible and effective wound care products to address the needs of treating such skin wounds.
In recent decades, hydrogels have garnered significant attention for their role in treating skin wounds.

When applied to a wound, these specialized gels facilitate the healing process by absorbing discharged fluids (exudates) and maintaining a protective, well-hydrated, and oxygenated environment for the wound.
Nevertheless, many advanced hydrogels are endowed with adhesive properties to adhere to skin tissue and accommodate skin movement.

As these hydrogels possess stickiness and adhere to both the skin and the wound site, they can lead to stretching and expansion of the wound when swelling occurs after absorbing exudates.

This not only causes discomfort for the user but also elevates the risk of bacterial infection due to the expansion of the wound area.

Therefore, to develop hydrogels that can effectively treat wounds without impeding the wound healing process, it is imperative to explore novel approaches in the formulation of hydrogels, utilizing existing material properties.
Against this backdrop, a team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science (TUS), Japan, has proposed an innovative and highly valuable medical material for treating skin wounds.

As reported in their recent study published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, they have developed a novel, cost-effective hydrogel using a component found in seaweed, achieving physical properties completely different from those of conventional hydrogels.

The study, available online since November 8, 2023, and slated for publication in Volume 254, Part 3 of the journal in January 2024, was led by Mr. Ryota Teshima, a Master's student at TUS. Assistant Professor Shigehito Osawa, Ms. Miki Yoshikawa, Associate Professor Yayoi Kawano, Professor Hidenori Otsuka, and Professor Takehisa Hanawa, all from different faculties and departments at TUS, were also part of this study.
The method of preparing the proposed hydrogel is remarkably straightforward.

It was created using alginate, calcium carbonate, and carbonated water.

Alginate, a biocompatible substance extracted from beach-cast seaweed, was a key component.

Crucially, it does not strongly adhere to cells or skin tissues.

Thanks to the unique structure formed by alginate and calcium ions, along with the protective effect of CO2 in carbonated water against acidification, the resulting hydrogel not only displayed ideal pH and moisture conditions for wound recovery but also exhibited significantly lower adhesion and swelling compared to other commercial hydrogel wound dressings.
The researchers assessed the effectiveness of their new hydrogel through cell cultures and a mouse model, both of which produced excellent results.

"Through animal experiments, we demonstrated that our hydrogel has a high therapeutic effect and, at the same time, can suppress the temporary expansion of the wound area caused by conventional clinical preparations," noted Mr. Teshima.

"This proves our initial hypothesis that gels with low skin adhesion and low-swelling properties are excellent as wound dressing materials, which is the complete opposite of conventional wisdom."
It is worth noting that alginate, a key component, can be extracted from beach-stranded seaweed, a renewable resource often considered coastal waste. Given that the proposed hydrogel is not only cost-effective but also biodegradable, this development signifies a crucial stride toward advancing sustainable medicine.

"Medical materials still lack a sustainability-oriented perspective, and we believe this research will serve as a benchmark for the design of future medical materials and lead to sustainable and low-cost wound care," stated Mr. Teshima. "Moreover, our findings can help clarify issues with hydrogel formulations currently in clinical use and provide new design guidelines for next-generation wound treatment gels."